Ro­dent road a study in vig­i­lance


‘‘Through­out the night – they stalk death on the ‘guinea pig’ high­way,’’ was the rather in­trigu­ing ti­tle given to an ar­ti­cle that ap­peared in New Zealand Free Lance on Au­gust 24, 1955.

It had noth­ing what­so­ever to do with small do­mes­tic ro­dents – the ar­ti­cle high­lighted the lengths taken by the Trans­port Depart­ment to min­imise road traf­fic ac­ci­dents or, in the uniden­ti­fied author’s words, ‘‘to stem the ris­ing tide of death and hu­man mu­ti­la­tion on New Zealand’s high­ways’’.

The ‘‘guinea pig’’ high­way was a 115- mile ( 186 kilo­me­tre) stretch of ru­ral high­way be­tween Porirua and Whanganui, used as an ex­per­i­ment in vig­i­lant pa­trolling be­cause it con­tained all the haz­ards likely to con­front mo­torists and cy­clists – long, straight stretches invit­ing speed­ing, rail­way cross­ings, bends to ne­go­ti­ate, bridges to cross and built up, pop­u­lated ar­eas to pass through.

One of the most haz­ardous ar­eas iden­ti­fied was the 5km stretch be­tween Paekakariki and Para­pa­raumu.

Thank­fully the author, who spent a Satur­day night pa­trolling the high­way with a se­nior traf­fic of­fi­cer, avoided any real in­ci­dents of ‘‘ wild driv­ing’’, though the traf­fic of­fi­cer had pre­pared for the worst.

The ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­to­graph il­lus­trates the huge luminous signs dot­ting the high­way, which gave a clear warn­ing to road users that pa­trols (if not guinea pigs) were out in force, and would ar­guably have played a part in mod­er­at­ing some mo­torists’ be­hav­iour.

Nev­er­the­less, it is a som­bre re­flec­tion of the fact that, nearly 60 years later, road safety and traf­fic ac­ci­dents are still ma­jor is­sues in New Zealand.

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